Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Uncle Tupelo's Kids

It’s been almost fifteen years since the Great Uncle Tupelo Schism rocked the music world. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate. Outside of Belleville, Illinois and the minds and hearts of a few thousand dedicated fans, probably not many people even noticed. But I did, and I mourned for a couple years before the first Wilco and Son Volt albums appeared. The chief protagonists, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, have certainly moved on to bigger and better things in the intervening years – Tweedy with Wilco, and Farrar with Son Volt. But, truth be told, as much as I like them now, I liked them better when they were alternating songs on classic albums like No Depression and Anodyne.

There are apparently others who remember as well. Here are two bands who have chosen sides in the schism, but who capture that early Uncle Tupelo energy nonetheless. And when you put the two CDs together and play them in shuffle mode, you’d swear that it was 1993.

Southeast Engine – A Wheel Within a Wheel

Representing the Wilco side of the schism we have Athens, Ohio’s Southeast Engine, and lead singer/songwriter Adam Remnant, who does a more than passable Tweedy impersonation. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Adam Remnant is a pseudonym, because there are more biblical allusions here than in the entire U2 catalogue, starting with the opening rocker “Taking the Fall” and continuing right on through the final track “Let It Be So,” which sounds like The Partridge Family (complete with ba-ba-ba-dah chorus) discovering the Book of Revelation. There’s an openness and vulnerability that makes it all more than palatable, though, and when Adam sings the asshole-returning-to-Jesus confessional ballad “God, Let Me Back In,” his voice cracking like Tweedy’s in all the right places, there is a world of hurt in those straightforward lines. This is unironic, poetic Jesus Americana. Tweedy pulled it off with “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” Southeast Engine pulls it off for forty minutes here. (Out October 16th on Misra Records)

Macon Greyson – 20th Century Accidents

Representing the Son Volt side of the schism we have Dallas’s Macon Greyson, and lead singer/songwriter Buddy Huffman, who has Jay Farrar’s craggy, soulful tenor down to a sadsack science. There are times when it’s impossible to tell them apart. Like the early Son Volt albums, Macon Greyson’s songs alternate between blistering roots rockers and country-inflected ballads. The ballads are just fine, and showcase Huffman’s social conscience and better-than-average lyrical gifts. But this band really shines on the rockers, where they take the no-frills ethos of the best bar bands and kick it right into the back alley. The bluesy Stones swagger of “Black Light” may offer the best Keith Richards guitar lick since “Brown Sugar,” and the sturdy power chords of the title track and “Minnesota Weather Map” will have the air guitarists pumping their fists. It’s straightforward rock ‘n roll for the millionth time, and, as is the case with all such miracles, it sounds utterly fresh and vital. (Out October 9th on Fat Caddy Records)


eKlinger said...

How well I remember that schism. The band that I was in at the time was massively enamored of Uncle Tupelo (I believe our guitarist and drummer mailed them a fan letter one tipsy evening). No Depression and Still Feel Gone were on our tape deck almost constantly. I think we went through most of the seven stages when they split, but when A.M. and Trace were released it was as if it all made sense again. One great band split into two great bands. How often does that happen?

Trip McClatchy said...

Thanks... I'll check both these bands out. I really loved Uncle Tupelo, and it seemed like they got better with each album. Anodyne is one of my favorite sounding records of all time.

Son Volt started off with a bang with Trace, a disc have they come nowhere near matching since. Wilco made a sweet and subtle debut, two underheard classics, two way overpraised art projects, and now they've come full circle with a subtle nod to their americana roots. I know Nels Cline gets mad props, but I just hear Steely Dan-lite noodling from him. I still like Sky Blue Sky, though... I just can't seem to fall in live with it.

Anonymous said...

Adam Remnant is his real name. SE Engine is incredible live. Thank-you for reviewing them and I hope you get some opportunities to see them down in Athens.

Anonymous said...

wow, trip hit the nail on head in short, concise fashion about Wilco.

Andy Whitman said...

Well, I agree with Trip's Wilco assessment as well, which makes me a pariah in the music criticism world, but there you go. But I've always preferred melodies and song structures to radio static and amplifier hum.

Anonymous said...

thanks andy for letting us know what is out there.

i still remember seeing uncle tupelo at the whisky a-go-go, just prior to their breaking up...

and they were far more interesting than wilco was at the troubadour about 8 years after that.

i liked the louvinesque element of the UT sound.

Anonymous said...

I loved Uncle so I will check out these guys. Thanks!